by John Bamford
TOUR OF THE ABBERLEYS 2019
To anyone not familiar with the racing scene in the UK may be forgiven for thinking that a race organised by the League of Veteran Racing Cyclists would involve a group of old codgers riding vintage bikes whilst reminiscing about a bygone era of various sporting achievements.
How far from the truth could that be! The Tour of the Abberleys is always well represented and has now become a prestigious event on the LVRC calendar, ran over the first bank holiday weekend in May, and renowned for its aggressive racing on challenging hilly circuits in the lovely Worcestershire countryside.
Just looking around the car park on Day 1 re-enforces the likely quality of the racing to come, the amount of carbon fibre, lightweight wheels, power meters and other expensive kit, if totted up and pooled together would generate enough cash to purchase a number of high end Italian sports cars!
Yes, my fellow riders aren’t here for a jolly, even though the camaraderie and banter in the HQ each day is as good as it gets, everyone here means business and everyone knows the racing will be of a really high quality!
We have always had a strong team of riders for this event, having won the overall for the past 3 years courtesy of Stephen Feeney and Craig Battersby. However, our team would be a bit depleted for the 2019 edition with Stephen, the previous year’s winner, unable to defend his trophy and Craig, winner in 2016 and 2017, side-lined due to a broken arm sustained in a training ride crash in the last few miles of our annual Majorca training camp. We were all gutted for Craig as the Tour of the Abberleys is suited to him and he was in top form leading up to the event. Heal fast Craig!
So that left, myself and Tony Greenhalgh to fly the flag for Team Chronomaster in this year’s event. Tony is a previous stage winner, with his most recent win on the final stage of last year where he had gone up the road with several other riders, virtually from the end of the neutralised section, and managed to hang on for the win over the tough final climbs of the finishing circuit, despite the climbers of the race being on a mission to hunt him down before the line.
I had a quiet race last year, but was looking to build upon the top 10 overall finish I’d had the year before. I felt I had reasonable form so it was all to play for. Darran Acton of Tactic Sport, our friend, training partner and kit sponsor, was also joining us for the weekend.
STAGE 1 – Prologue
The first stage was a 3 mile prologue starting at the layby just across from the HQ. This year there would be a tailwind so the times were likely to be quick. The course had reverted back to the one used a few years ago, having experimented with a longer TT last year. It was uphill for the first 1km then basically downhill or flat with one or two small rises, which wouldn’t pose too much problem to most when gliding along at TT pace.
At 55kg wet through prologues are never going to be my forte, and certainly not ones that favour the strong men who can churn large gears on the flat and downhill sections. So I wasn’t going to get overly concerned about the result, I’d just try to push hard and see where that got me. In the end I think I pushed too hard up the climb at the start, hung on for the middle section but died a thousand deaths in the last half mile. I crossed the line in 7:15, with Tony recording a time of 6:46 good enough for 10th place, but disappointing given his ambitions of a podium position in the overall. Shaun Tyson of Team Ribble won the stage and would wear the yellow jersey.
Despite the disappointing start we both agreed that there was plenty of racing to come over the bank holiday weekend and everything was still to play for…. Roll on stage 2.
The full result from the opening time trial is below:
STAGE 2 – Astley Circuit
This stage consisted of a 14 mile circuit raced over 3 laps, just a couple of hours after the prologue had finished. The sun was still shining although a few grey clouds were gathering above us.
The race rolled left out of the headquarters with a neutralised section of about half a mile. I positioned myself in the first half a dozen riders and waited for the inevitable grunt of the engine as the lead car sped off into the distance to signal the race was on proper.
It was at this point Darran and five others managed to quickly breakaway from the bunch and gain a lead of about 30 seconds. In true ToA tradition there were plenty of attacks and attempts to break clear of the bunch, over the next two laps, none of which came to anything. I’d followed some of the moves but was keen not help too much in the chase as Daz was up the road.
On the bell lap, the leading riders had been reeled back in and it was all to play for again. On one of the longer drags on the back end of the circuit 3 riders broke clear, Dave Griffiths, Thomas McCormack and Nigel Modlinsky and these riders eventually contested the win, with Dave Griffiths, managing to get the better of the two Element CT riders.
Both Tony and I made sure we were near the front of the bunch going into the final couple of miles, with an uphill drag on the A451 stringing things out nicely. As we approached the left hand turn into the finishing straight, Tony was 2nd wheel and I was a wheel or two behind him. With a few hundred metres to go, Tony kicked and I tried to follow. Tony won the bunch gallop for 4th place and I managed to grab 6th place…. Not bad for a lad with a worse sprint than Craig Battersby!
Photo courtesy of Vince Page.
Here is the general classification after day 1 and the stage 2 result:
STAGE 3 – Hill Side Circuit
Today’s stage was the longest of the race at 56 miles, An 11 mile lap raced over 5 laps. A lumpy route with a climb of just under a mile to the finish line. The winner of the stage would also receive the Ramon Minovi Memorial race trophy.
Tony had managed to maintain his top ten overall placing, however I had some catching up to do given my average prologue performance from the previous day.
The attacks began once again, as soon as the lead car had headed into the distance. I tried to get in a couple of moves but it seemed half the bunch had the same idea. Eventually, 3 riders managed to forge a break and disappear up the road; Steve Lee, Jez Honor and Steve Dring. A fourth rider, Nigel Modlinsky managed to bridge across and the quartet managed to hold a slender gap (20 – 40 secs) for the remaining laps.
The race followed a similar pattern on laps 2 and 3 where the finishing climb wasn’t ridden at full gas but then attacks would go over the top and in the twisty back lanes before re-joining the A443 on the main road back to Gt Witley. Amongst the many attacks, both Tony and I attempted to steal a march on the bunch, but it seemed all moves where now chased down.
The penultimate time up the finishing climb was ridden hard with Tony pressing on, gaps started to appear as the bunch was singled out. The bunch eventually regrouped with half a lap to go and Tony and I had a quick word with each other about how things would play out. Tony’s advice… “stay on my wheel Bambam”. That was good enough for me! :O)
As we hit the finishing climb Shaun Tyson, who was sitting 4th overall, pressed on. I held his wheel whilst Tony tucked in behind me. As we hit the plateau that breaks the finishing climb into two, Tony shouted that we’d got a gap. I eventually flicked my elbow for Tony to come through, conscious that I didn’t want the gap we’d forced to disappear. Both Tony and Shaun seemed to kick again, and as we hit the final incline to the finish my legs went, full of lactate due to the effort, and I ended up rolling over the line in 19th place. Tony crossed the line in 8th moving himself to 7th on the overall standings.
Here is the stage result and general classification after stage 3:
Steve Lee, from the original break crossed the line first to win the Ramon Minovi Memorial race trophy, whilst Jez Honor mopped up the most points from the breakaway to wear the KOM jersey for the final day of racing.
STAGE 4 – Worcester circuit (1 lap); Shelsley Walsh circuit (2 laps)
The final stage of the race is the shortest, but arguably the toughest with 2 difficult climbs each lap of the final finishing circuit.
Tony was sitting in 7th position overall, 1:48 off the yellow jersey, whilst I was sat in 25th spot 2 mins 32 down. Given the severity of the climbs and tired legs from the previous days racing, anything was possible (Liverpool and Spurs fans would vouch to that!!).
Both Darran, Tony and I had discussed tactics and it was evident that the best way of making up time was to try and get in an early break and give ourselves time to build up a lead, in the hope that the top 3 or 4 guys on GC would be marking each other, essentially, in a carbon copy of last year’s final stage.
Attacks were frantic and often in the first few miles as we approached Martley and the left turn along the B4204 towards Worcester. Attacks continued with Darran pretty much either creating or chasing every move, I attacked several times too, but with no rhyme or reason to it, all were closed down, then one or two riders would be given some rope and get up the road. A group of six riders eventually formed a lead group including Peter Bracken and Paul Dring. With Liverpool Braveheart having four riders in the race and Steve willing to carry out defensive duties for his brother, any further attacks were quickly nullified.
As we hit half distance of the 20 mile lap the lead group had gained 30-40 seconds. I attacked again, and thankfully got a gap quickly. I looked behind and could see a lone figure coming across, after another glance behind I could see it was Daz so I eased up slightly and as he passed me I jumped on his wheel.
We worked well together for the next few miles, eventually mopping up Richard Unwin who’d not quite managed to bridge across to the breakaway. The bunch were nowhere in sight and so we pressed on over the rolling terrain heading back towards Gt Witley and the finishing circuit. We could see the lead car not too far in the distance so probably had 20 seconds to make up.
The effort was heavy going into a headwind, but we all pressed on in the hope we could make inroads into the leaders. As we approached the HQ and so the end of the Worcester circuit, a quick glance back confirmed our worst fears, the bunch was strung out and fast approaching.
Our bridging attempt was over, and when we hit the first of the two major climbs on the finishing circuit, the GC contenders pressed on, and with lactate filled legs, both Darran and I went backwards. I managed to get over the top, glued to the wheel of Tommy Mac, who although he was sat in 3rd place overall had done a terrific job of keeping the pace high in the bunch for Nigel who was in yellow.
The leaders were reeled in at this point, and so the game was on for the GC lads, with Tony right up there in the mix. I found myself in the second group on the road, a bunch of 7 or 8 riders. We completed the first lap together and then mopped up another few riders who had dropped from the front bunch so our group swelled to a dozen or so with 7 miles and 2 climbs to go.
Over the punishing circuit Shaun Tyson and Dave Griffiths broke clear, clearly the strongest climbers on the day, and Dave managed to shake Shaun off to take the win by 16 seconds. Tony who’d found himself in no man’s land between the two race leaders and the ‘best of the rest’ knocked off his effort and decided to save himself for the sprint.
A testing finale, with a 400m drag to the line, Tony managed to kick clear taking a well deserved third place, and moving himself up to 5th overall. With heavy legs from the earlier breakaway effort I rolled in in 24th place, a disappointing result but that’s racing.
Here is the final stage result and overall classification:
Dave Griffiths managed to take the win, and wrestle the yellow jersey away from Nigel who rolled in in 14th place on the day’s stage, managing to finish 3rd overall, oh and he won the KOM jersey too. Shaun Tyson, who’d raced strong throughout the weekend, finished second on the day and second overall. Well done to all the stage and overall winners in both the AB and CDEF races.
I will end by saying a huge thank you to the organiser Mike Amery and his army of helpers who put on a superb event! That army grows larger each year, (I’m sure Mike mention upwards of 75+ helpers) so thank you to each and everyone one of them, as without them, fantastic races like this wouldn’t get off the ground.
I’m certain Team Chronomaster will be back for the 2020 edition with Craig ready to try and make it a hat-trick of overall wins.